Italy v Republic of Ireland: An Irish improvement won’t be enough

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The fact that Republic of Ireland were 4/1 to win this match pre-tournament but are now available at 8/1 provides a clear indication of just how disappointing they were in heavy defeats to Croatia and Spain.

Nobody tipped them to challenge for the trophy before the competition got underway yet a 14-match unbeaten run featuring 11 clean sheets inspired confidence that they would at least trouble their Group C rivals.

Instead, they have shredded their reputation as a defensively well drilled side by shipping seven goals in three hours of football, most damningly conceding in the first five minutes of every half.

It is 5/2 that the opening goal comes in the first ten minutes when they meet Italy, who must win to stand a chance of reaching the quarter-finals.

The Azzurri are 5/6 to strike in both halves and it is 11/10 that Ireland exit not only having lost all three fixtures but having been outscored in all six halves too.

There are two reasons for Irish optimism. The first is that they have met Italy three times under Giovanni Trapattoni, claiming a victory and two draws. Then again, given how little there pre-Euro 2012 form has meant so far, this may prove insignificant.

The other is that Italy have been wasteful so far, forcing Spain’s Iker Casillas into more saves than he had to make throughout the qualifying process yet scoring just once and failing to truly capitalise on their first-half dominance against Croatia.

Mario Balotelli has arguably been the biggest culprit though and is an injury doubt (there was talk that he would be dropped anyway). It is also noticeable that Spain and Croatia netted only once against Italy but found Ireland far easier to punish.

Odds of 11/2 on Italy triumphing 2-0 intrigue, while the player who replaces Balotelli in the starting line-up – probably either Antonio Di Natale (9/2) or Fabio Borini (7/1) – appears the best bet in the first goalscorer market.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Craig Kemp

Craig has written for Ladbrokes since the 2010 World Cup, having previously gained a Media & Sports Journalism degree and contributed to publications including the Racing Post. His main areas of interest are horse racing and UFC, but he is also an avid X Factor gambler and likes nothing more than indulging in a spot of Hip Hop Karaoke.